A Twitter bug is restoring deleted tweets and retweets — including my own

Earlier this year on the 8th of May I deleted all my tweets, just under 5,000 of them. I know the exact day because I tweeted about it.

This morning, though, I discovered that Twitter has restored a handful of my old re-tweets; interactions I know I scrubbed from my profile. Those re-tweets were gone. I remember surveying my bare timeline with satisfaction before thinking, “great, time to draw attention to myself.” But now they’re back. You can see them by scrolling down my timeline past May 8th, with even more appearing if you select “tweets with replies.”

The re-tweets themselves are completely run-of-the-mill. There’s a video of kids cheering a construction worker. A Sopranos meme about Lindy (remember Lindy?). But the oldest dates back to 2020 — a video from the George Floyd protests that I would have shared while they were happening. Why on Earth is Twitter restoring three-year-old information? And what does it say about the ability of the platform’s users to control their own data? Nothing good, obviously.

I’m not the only one to notice deleted tweets resurfacing recently. I only checked my timeline after seeing a post on Mastodon (via Ryan Broderick’s newsletter) in which a user complained on May 17th that 34,000 of his deleted tweets had been restored.

“Last November I deleted all my Tweets. Every single one. I then ran Redact and deleted all my likes, my media and retweets,” tooted open-source developer Dick Morrell. “Woke up today to find 34k of them [sic] Twitter who presumably brought a server farm back up. Now re deleting. This shows why you should NOT be using Twitter, ever.”

It’s not clear how widespread this problem might be or what the cause is. It could be due to the tool used to delete tweets (though I used while Morrell said he used Redact), while some have speculated it’s caused by Twitter’s servers being moved around and accidentally restoring the data. ZDNET reports Morrell saying that over 400 people had told him they’d had similar problems, while a quick survey of my colleagues at The Verge who’ve mass-deleted tweets received mixed results. Some said their old tweets were still gone while others said it seemed like some had come back.

Whatever’s happening, it’s another demonstration of Twitter’s crumbling infrastructure and inability to fulfill even the basic functions it promises users. Some of these failings predate Elon Musk’s takeover of the company. (See, for example, the years-long problem of properly deleting direct messages.) But there’s been an uptick in bugs since Musk initiated mass firings, with users reporting similar glitches like private tweets being made public.

For me, the issue is trivial. It’s just a few old retweets. But it points to a larger problem. Twitter is still an important tool for activists, whistleblowers, and protestors around the world. There’s a reason Turkey is forcing the company to block certain tweets during its ongoing elections. Twitter still matters. But if you are, say, a political dissenter in an authoritarian country, then the ability to delete your own tweets could be crucial to your freedom. For all Musk’s talk about free speech, the company doesn’t seem to care about this.

While writing this story I emailed Twitter’s press line to see if anyone would comment, just for the sake of form. I got the automated reply the firm now sends to every enquiry, no matter how polite or needful: “????”. I deleted it.

Spring Sale 2020

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